Monday, April 22, 2024

Week 17 – The Shining by Stephen King

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 17 –  The Shining by Stephen King

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shining_(novel)

https://stephenking.com/works/novel/shining.html

First published: January 28, 1977

Here's what the story is about: Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, accepts a position as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His wife and 5yo son accompany him. Danny possesses "the shining", psychic abilities that allow him to see the hotel's horrific true nature. A winter storm leaves the family snowbound, and the supernatural forces affect Jack's sanity.

First line/paragraph:
Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.
Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.

This story starts in third person POV and gives us the name of the main character, along with what he's thinking which tells us quite a bit about the type of person he is. Negative, judgmental, definitely not a friendly sort of person. The next paragraph describes the “officious little prick” in a way that not only describes that person, but tells us more about Jack Torrance. Nothing about the plot though, altho because we know it's a Stephen King novel, we're pretty sure the plot will be excellent and terrifying at the same time.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 18, 2024

Dear O'Abby: How do authors get paid?

 Dear O'Abby,

This will probably sound like a really dumb question, but how do authors get paid?  And is it different for authors who have published a bunch of books with a single publisher?

It just occurred to me that I have no idea...

Kind regards,

Curious

Dear Curious,

I don't believe any questions are dumb.  If you don't know something, ask.  I learned the hard way that you make really dumb mistakes if you don't!

The way authors get paid varies depending on who is paying them.

An author who sells a book to big publisher will usually receive an advance.  This can be a big amount of money if the publisher believes the book has the potential to sell a lot of copies, but is usually a more modest amount.  Advances tend to be paid in three tranches, the first on signing the contract, the second on delivering the final manuscript and the third on publication.

The thing with advances, is that they are payment in advance for sales that haven't happened yet.  So once the book is published, you don't see any more money for that book until it has earned out - repaid the advance.  And a lot of books don't end up earning out.  Once the advance has been paid off, then an author will start receiving royalties. These are usually paid out every three to six months, depending on the contract.

It is important that when signing a publishing contract you understand how the royalties are paid.  Some contracts specify royalties as a percentage of the gross, while others specify a percentage of the net.  The net price of a book is the cover price less any costs to the publisher, so can end up being a very small amount at the end of the day.  Especially if your royalty is only 5% of that.

Small presses tend not to offer advances, and therefore offer more attractive royalty rates.  Most small presses I've dealt with pay around 40%-55% royalties to their authors.  But once again, it's important to understand if that is gross or net. It's also important to know how often royalties get paid out.  My current publisher pays quarterly, but I have worked with small presses who only pay royalties once a year.

Authors whose work is published in literary journals or anthologies are likely to receive a one-off payment for their work which will either be a set dollar amount or a per-word fee - usually around 2-5 cents per word.  Which is not an excuse to get flowery with the language; an editor will likely cut any excess words pre-publication.

As far as I know, there is no difference for authors who have already published with a company.  They have the advantage (or disadvantage if their book sold badly) of having an relationship with an editor and a team at that publisher, but they will still get paid based on what they sell.

Self-publishing allows authors to take a much larger share of the money from every book sale, but also puts the costs of publishing the book (editing, formatting, cover design, marketing etc) into the atuthor's hands.

I hope that helps to sate your curiousity!


X O'Abby


Monday, April 15, 2024

Week 16 – A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 16 – A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

https://www.suegrafton.com/kinsey-millhone.php

https://www.suegrafton.com/book-display.php?ISBN13=9780312938994&title_key=a

First published: April 15, 1982

Here's what the story is about: Kinsey Millhone, 32, former cop turned private detective in Santa Teresa California [fictional Santa Barbara], investigates the death of prominent divorce lawyer Laurence Fife. His murder eight years earlier was blamed on his wife, Nikki. Upon her release from prison, Nikki hires Kinsey to find the real murderer.

First line/paragraph:
My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind. I'm a nice person and I have a lot of friends. My apartment is small but I like living in a cramped space. I've lived in trailers most of my life, but lately they've been getting too elaborate for my taste, so now I live in one room, a “bachelorette.” I don't have pets. I don't have houseplants. I spend a lot of time on the road and I don't like leaving things behind. Aside from the hazards of my profession, my life has always been ordinary, uneventful and good. Killing someone feels odd to me and I haven't quite sorted it through. I've already given a statement to the police, which I initialed page by page and then signed. I filled out a similar report for the office files. The language in both documents is neutral, the terminology oblique, and neither says quite enough.

This story starts in first person POV with “my name is” and a list of characteristics, not something generally advised but Janet Evanovich also does it with her Stephanie Plum series. The plot is introduced by the fact she's a private investigator and she killed someone, but that's all we know. We do learn a lot about the setting and the main character in her own words and in her own  voice, which gives the reader more information than just the words describe. It also mentions a killing in the fourth sentence although we assume that's not the killing that she was hired to investigate. As a reader, I'm left with a favorable impression of this investigator as no-nonsense, gritty, determined, and interesting to read about for 8 hours.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 11, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Does the order of words really matter?

 Dear O'Abby,

I just got some feedback from my critique partner that some of my sentences don't read right in terms of the word order.  Is this really a thing?  Is it really wrong to say someone is "blonde, lithe and tall" instead of "tall, lithe and blonde"?  I've never come across that rule before and I can't see how it makes a difference.

Is this really a thing?

Best,

Disorderly

Dear Disorderly,

It does matter.  English is weird and has very specific rules, but in most languages you'll find the order words come in does matter.  Where it is more flexible is in languages like Latin where the meaning is indicated by the case or declension, not by the order of words in the sentence.

Most languages, English included, follow the Subject-Verb-Object pattern eg. John ate the cake.  But of course sometimes you need to express things more complex than that.

Given the example you gave, I suspect you're talking mainly about adjectives and the order in which they are used.  And yes, there is a hierarchy, which is probably what your critique partner was referencing when they mentioned your sentences feeling off.  People who speak English natively absorb these rules as they are learning to speak - they probably don't even know they are rules; just that it sounds wrong to have "green, jolly giant" as opposed to a "jolly, green giant".

The hierarchy is as follows:

1. Determiner (words like an, my, your, the)
2. Observations (words that describe a feeling about something - lovely, boring, stupid)
3. Size (self explanatory, I hope! Small, large, tiny)
4. Shape (again, speaks for itself, I think - triangular, heart-shaped, square)
5. Age (any word applying to this, not just the actual age of something - old, new, twelve-year-old)
6. Colour (obvious, I hope - pink, green, blonde)
7. Origin ( where something comes from - Mexican, Chinese, British)
8. Material (what the thing is made of - wood, copper, tweed)
9. Qualifier/modifier (a word that gives context to a noun)

So, to use all of these in a grammatically correct sentence try:

"My gorgeous, long, tapered, ten-year-old, ivory, Chinese, silk, wedding dress tore on my way up the aisle

If your character is not a native English speaker, then having them use words in the wrong order can show their lack of familiarity with the language, but it should be used sparingly.  And probably primarily in dialogue.

So I hope that helps.  The rules are somewhat arbitrary, I know, but if you read a sentence aloud and notice there is something slightly off about it, it may be because the order of adjectives in not correct.

Maybe next week I'll look at some other word placement issues I see sometimes.  Where you place words is important, the same way where you place punctuation is.

X O'Abby

Monday, April 8, 2024

Week 15 – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 15 – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hobbit

First published: September 21, 1937

Here's what the story is about: Bilbo Baggins, a homebody hobbit from Middle Earth, is “volunteered” by the wizard Gandalf to join thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim the dwarves' home and treasure from the dragon Smaug.

First line/paragraph:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. 

This story starts in what appears to be omniscient POV. The main character appears to be the referenced hobbit, who lives in a hole in the ground. And what a hole! We assume it includes at least one chair and food, and is a comfortable home.

The writing is somewhat lyrical. The only plot we know at this time is that this must be a fantasy story. But I'm intrigued enough to read at least the first few pages.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 4, 2024

Writing prompts with O'Abby

 There were no questions for O'Abby today, so I thought I'd try something new.  Please let me know in the comments if this is something you're interested in because I might make it a monthly feature if there is an appetite for it.

I know that when I'm stuck for ideas, using writing prompts is incredibly useful for me.  I even started writing a novel a few years back, using daily prompts to guide each chapter.  It was a really great way to challenge myself and pushed the story in directions I probably would not have taken on my own.  It also meant that each day I wrote around 1,000 words because the prompts I used were part of a daily contest to write flash fiction stories up to 1,000 words in length within 24 hours of the prompt being issued.

The prompts varied from giving five or six words that needed to be used in the chapter to offering specific topics to write about to suggesting genres.  Some days it was easy to fit the next chapter of my story to the prompt, while other days it was a lot more challenging. 

I'm not suggesting that you try to write a novel using prompts - it was simply a way to challenge myself and kickstart a story I was struggling to write - but when you need a starting point for anything, prompts can often be helpful.

So I'm going to offer you a prompt today.  I'd love to see what you do with it, so feel free to share what you write in the comments, or email your story or poem to O'Abby at operationawesome6@gmail.com.

Today's prompt draws inspiration from Dena's post earlier this week about Cormac McCarthy's The Road, one of my favourite books.

Prompt:

Write a story or poem about a time in the future using a common object from the present day to illustrate how the world has changed.

Happy writing!

O'Abby

Monday, April 1, 2024

Week 14 – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 14 – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

https://www.cormacmccarthy.com/works/the-road/

First published: September 26, 2006

Here's what the story is about: A father and his young son journey on foot across the ash-covered United States toward the sea, several years after a cataclysm destroys all life except for a few humans.

First line/paragraph:
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

This story starts in third person POV with the main character waking up, which we are advised is generally not a good idea. However, the tone of the first line is the beginning of the theme and plot of the book, and I think it works here. He's waking up in the woods, it's still dark and cold, and a child is sleeping beside him. This begs the question of why is he in the woods with a child? The tone suggests they are not just camping. The sentences are sometimes run-on, other times fragments. A disjointed recounting of the story, which is vaguely unsettling and makes for a great introduction to the entire theme and plot of the book.

The next few sentences give more clues as to the setting: dark beyond darkness, days increasingly gray. Then kicker phrases that really set the background and plot - “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world” and “raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.” Then it moves to the recollection of a dream, which further sets the tone of the book.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!






Thursday, March 28, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What are my odds for getting published?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm a first-time author trying to get my novel published and it has been tough.  Lots of rejection from both agents and publishers which is disheartening.  So, I'm wondering, do you know what the stats are for first novels getting published?  And is there anything I can do to improve my chances?

Thanks so much,

Unpubbed

Dear Unpubbed,

Unfortunately, the news I have for you is not good.  Only about 2% of authors get commercial publishing contracts.  Stats say that about 95% of manuscripts are not up to the standard a commercial publisher would consider.  And even those that are up to the required standard might get passed on because the publisher already has something similar on their list, the subject matter doesn't align with their current priorities or they feel it may be too hard to sell.

It is a tough road...  In terms of upping your chances of being in that tiny percentage, the best thing you can do is to write an amazing book and make sure you've had several rounds of critique and editing before sending it out anywhere.  With so few books reaching a publishable standard, the best way to get a leg up to to ensure yours is among the 5% that are.

And of course, commercial publishing is not the only option for you.  Small presses often specialise in specific genres and styles that mainstream publishing companies may not be interested in, so if your book is in a more niche genre, you may be better off submitting to a small press. And of course, there is also the option of self-publishing which is a good option if you are someone who likes to be in control of things, or if you write quickly - commercial publishing generally works at glacial speed..

At the end of the day, while there are things you can control - like the quality of your book - a lot of it is luck.  If your book falls into the right hands at the right moment, it could be the thing that gets you published.  But for most of us, that doesn't happen and we need to look at other publishing options.  

I'm sure this isn't the news you were hoping for, but I always feel like it's better to be prepared and have all the facts before you go too far down any path.  

Best of luck with your publishing journey, whichever direction you choose to take.

X O'Abby

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Suzanna's Writing and Reading Goals for 2024: February Update

 

The second month was successful with my reading goals. I made great progress on the publishing course, though I still have quite a bit to go. It has been lovely to think of how I want to reach my writing and publishing goals.

Here are my writing goals for 2024:

  1. Write 50,000 words in 30 days as part of a NaNo project (Camp in April, Camp in July, or NaNo in November).
  2. Write at least one children's book.
  3. Write at least one new short story.
  4. Edit at least one short story from my undergrad days.
  5. Write at least twelve poems.
  6. Put together a poetry collection.
  7. Work on the draft of the graphic novel.
  8. Take a course on publishing. (in progress)


  1. Read 12 literary magazines. (0/12)
  2. Read 12 novels. (24/12)
    1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (read by Andy Serkis)
    2. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
    3. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune
    4. Green Rider by Kristen Britain
    5. The Atlas Complex by Olivie Blake
    6. Rival Demons by Sarra Cannon
    7. Demons Forever by Sarra Cannon
    8. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
    9. Emerald Darkness by Sarra Cannon
  3. Read 12 short story collections. (0/12)
  4. Read 12 poetry collections. (0/12)
  5. Read 12 graphic novels. (7/12)
    1. Heartstopper Volume 4 by Alice Oseman
    2. A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll
    3. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge
    4. Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld
    5. Fables: Book Six by Bill Willingham
  6. Read 12 children's books. (6/12)
    1. The Adventures of Chad and the feelings of Glad, Mad and Sad by Dustin Wright
    2. We're Different, We're the Same by Bobbi Jane Kates
    3. Mulla Husayn: The Story of the Declaration of the Bab for Young Children by Alhan Rahimi
    4. Naw-Ruz in My Family by Alhan Rahimi
    5. Garden of Ridvan by Alhan Rahimi
  7. Read lots of books (nonfiction, fiber, etc). (9/12)
    1. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky
    2. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher
  8. Participate in every Kindle Reading Challenge this year and get at least 90% of the badges. 
    1. On target to finish all of the badges!
What are some of your writing and reading goals for 2024? How was February for you?

Monday, March 25, 2024

Week 13 – The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 13 – The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

https://www.michaelconnelly.com/writing/thelincolnlawyer/

First published: October 3, 2005

Here's what the story is about: Michael “Mickey” Haller is a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles County who works out of a Lincoln Town Car. Most of his clients are drug dealers and gangsters, but he takes on the case against a wealthy Los Angeles realtor, Louis Roulet, accused of assault and attempted murder.

First line/paragraph:
“There is no client as scary as an innocent man.”
–J. Michael Haller, Criminal Defense Attorney, Los Angeles, 1962
Chapter One
Monday, March 7
The morning air off the Mojave in late winter is as clean and crisp as you’ll ever breathe in Los Angeles County. It carries the taste of promise on it. When it starts blowing in like that I like to keep a window open in my office. There are a few people who know this routine of mine, people like Fernando Valenzuela. The bondsman, not the baseball pitcher. He called me as I was coming into Lancaster for a 9 o’clock calendar call. He must have heard the wind whistling in my cell phone.

This story starts with a quote. I've read other books that begin with a quote, but it's usually an actual quote by an actual famous person, not a fictional quote by a fictional character. But this quote sets up the entire book and does it well. The reader is primed for a story about an attorney who will be defending an innocent man.

The first paragraph gives the setting [Los Angeles County, late winter] but not just a list of facts. We learn the setting through the first-person POV of someone enjoying the morning while on his way to Lancaster, the beginning of plot. The rest of chapter 1 describes the morning of a criminal defense attorney on his way to court.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, March 21, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What's the difference between a university press and a publisher?

 Dear O'Abby,

Like most of your readers, I'm a writer trying to get published.  As part of my research I've been looking up the publisher of all my favorite books and discovered that many of the books I've enjoyed the most were published by university presses. 

What is the difference between a publisher and a university press?  And is one better than the other?  

Any light you can shed on this would be gratefully accepted.

Kind regards,

Pressed.

Dear Pressed,

Generally speaking, a university press focuses more on academic writing and often publishes work by faculty members of that university.  The things a university press chooses to publish might be academic, scholarly or focused toward a very niche audience.  University presses tend to be less concerned with turning a profit and more focused on serving a small community of interested readers.

That said, many university presses also publish novels and other works intended for a broader "trade" audience.  Novels that may have been written as part of a PhD or Masters programme are often published first by university presses and then those authors may continue publishing with that press in the future.

Commercial publishers, on the other hand, are more focused on publishing books that will sell en masse to a broad audiences.  

In terms of whether one is better than the other, it really depends on your book.  If you're writing non-fiction, particularly if it's on a very specialised subject, a university press might well be the best route for you.  If you've written a romance novel, a commercial publisher is likely to to be a better choice.

Where the line gets a bit blurrier is if you've written a particularly literary novel.  For something like that, a university press might be a good choice.  Whereas if you're writing non-fiction about something that's relevant in pop-culture, a commercial publisher is probably a better fit.

But certainly don't rule university presses out.  They often have very experienced, discerning and talented editors.  While they often have less to spend on marketing and a lower profile than a commercial publisher, they are also likely to champion your book for longer and keep it in print and on shelves long after a commercial publisher has moved on to the next thing.

And yes, you can publish with a university press even if you don't work at or attend that university.  You don't need to have gone to university at all....

Hope that helps!

X O'Abby.


Monday, March 18, 2024

Week 12 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 12 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Kill_a_Mockingbird

https://www.britannica.com/topic/To-Kill-a-Mockingbird

First published: July 11, 1960

Here's what the story is about: The story is told by 6yo Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, and set in the years 1933–1935 during the Great Depression in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. Scout’s father Atticus, an attorney, is appointed to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a young white woman. The book explores racial and social injustice. It won a Pulitzer prize in 1961, and was made into a movie in 1962 starring Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his performance as Atticus.

First line/paragraph:
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

This story starts with the main character, apparently a child although she has a great vocabulary [assuaged], speaking directly to the reader in first person POV about her brother. The reader knows a little about the child by the voice. We also know a little about the brother and what he cared about. Really nothing about the plot or setting though. But character being “king” for most readers, if the characters are interesting you'd read at least a few pages.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!





Thursday, March 14, 2024

From the archives - Dear O'Abby: How do I build a mailing list?

 Dear O’Abby,

 

My first book is releasing early next year and I want to get started on publicity and marketing in the next couple of months.  I have been researching a lot and everyone says that the best marketing tool is a good mailing list.  But how do I build a mailing list?  I have a sign-up form on my blog, but only five or so people have signed up.  And that’s over the last two years!  Do you have any ideas for how to build a mailing list that will actually help me?  Or do I need to buy a list from somewhere to get started?

 

Best,

 

Unmailed

 

Dear Unmailed,

 

Unfortunately mailing lists are a long game and you won’t build an amazing list overnight.  But you are correct that mailing lists are an incredibly valuable tool – you just have to be careful not to abuse them.

 

To build a good mailing list you need to have good content.  I don’t know how often you post on your blog or how many followers/regular blog readers you have, but the best way to grow your mailing list is to ensure that your blog is engaging readers.  People are not going to sign up for a mailing list on a blog that isn’t regularly updated or interesting.  So it may be time for a blog refresh, or even an opportunity to build a website for your author brand. 

 

Once you have a gorgeous, engaging and fascinating online home for your author brand, you need to ensure people visit.  Use your social channels to direct people to your blog/website.  Maybe even think of a special offer you can deliver on – a bespoke short story maybe?  Or after your book publishes, a deleted scene?  Something to entice people to sign up to your newsletter.  You can even put a pop-up window on your website so as soon as people drop by, they’ll see that they can get something free if they sign up.  Whatever you do, make sure the option to sign up to your newsletter is prominent on the page.

 

Once your book is published, make sure your website/blog address is clearly visible in the back-matter.  If a reader has finished your book and enjoyed it, they’ll be in the perfect frame of mind to look you up and because they enjoyed the book, they’ll be interested in hearing about the next one you write so they are likely to sign up to your newsletter.

 

Once you have more than a handful of subscribers, start sending out newsletters.  Not too many newsletters though.  People don’t want to be spammed.  Decide on a schedule and stick to it.  Monthly, maybe, or even less if you don’t think you’ll be able to create engaging, interesting copy more regularly.  What you write is important – don’t just flog your book.  You know what you’re interested in and what you’re an expert in, so use those things to give readers something unique in each newsletter.  And keep consistent from newsletter to newsletter.  If the formula works, readers will share your content with their friends and you’ll find your list grows.

 

The most important thing is to be yourself and be authentic.  Readers will see through anything else!  Take your time and do it right and your list will grow.  Just don’t get frustrated and give up if it’s slow going. Consistency is key.

 

Best of luck with your release!

 

X O’Abby

Monday, March 11, 2024

Week 11 – The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 11 – The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/series/no-1-detective-agency

First published: September 3, 2002 in US [1998 in Scotland]

Here's what the story is about: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series of mystery novels set in Botswana, by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith. The main protagonist is Mma Precious Ramotswe. She opens her country’s first female detective agency using an inheritance from her father.

First line/paragraph:
Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe--the only lady private detective in Botswana--brewed redbush tea. And three mugs--one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and intelligence, both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever include those, of course.

This story starts with an introduction in omniscient POV. It introduces the main character and the main setting. The reader also has a good idea of what the story will be about – a detective in Africa. In paragraph 4 the readers learns it is set in Botswana. I have never been in Africa, and I read this book with the idea that I would learn something about Botswana. The book did not disappoint. I learned about the people and the culture, alongside a set of cases which one source describes as “gentle” and I agree. It's not edge-of-your-seat suspense, but it was a delight to read.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, March 7, 2024

Dear O'Abby: how do I ask published authors for advice?

 Dear O'Abby,

I was at a book launch over the weekend and the author who spoke was really lovely and friendly during her Q & A, so I thought I'd approach her later and ask some advice about how to get my own books  published since I'm a complete novice when it comes to the publishing industry.

Well, she was not nearly as nice or friendly when I caught her after her signing and asked her if she'd be willing to talk to me about that.  In fact, she made me feel like a total idiot for even asking.  I cringed out of the bookstore and went home to lick my wounds. With a pint of Rocky Road.

Obviously that was not the right way to approach a published author for advice, but what is?  Any guidance you can give me would be gratefully accepted.  I never want to feel that humiliated again.

Best wishes,

Embarassed

Dear Embarassed,

I'm sorry you had that experience.  Most authors are actually very helpful and willing to help newer writers navigate the rocky path to publishing.  But maybe this was not the right place or time to pursue the answers you're looking for.  A book launch is that author's big day, a celebration of all the hard work they have put in to get that book published and out into the world.  

If you're going to speak to an author at an event like this, it's probably best if you have bought their book before you approach them.  Even better if you've read it, or at least read something they have written.  Then you can ease into the conversation by talking about their work before you bring up your own.

Also, make sure the author you're speaking to writes in a similar genre to you.  There is no point asking a non-fiction writer about their publishing experience if you are writing novels.  The two are very different and advice you get from a non-fiction author will not necessarily apply to you as a novelist.

Have a good sense what you want for your book in terms of publishing.  An author who publishes with a small press or academic press will have very different experiences to speak about that an author published by one of the big 5.  And if they are self-publishing, it's a whole other ballgame.  Make sure what you want aligns with the author you want to approach or the advice you get is not likely to be applicable.

Make sure you have specific questions.  Do some research and learn where the gaps in your knowledge are. The broader the questions you ask, the less specific the answers are likely to be, and you may not learn what you want to learn. Go in with three or four targeted questions and you are more likely to get something you can use than if you go in with something like , "so, how do I get my novel published?"

And know when to walk away.  If an author doesn't want to engage, don't push it.  Just thank them and leave them alone. Or ask if there is a better time for them when they might be more able to speak.  Book launches can be overwhelming, especially if the author is uncomfortable speaking to a crowd.  They might be more willing to meet up with you one on one, or answer your questions by email.

Hopefully that helps!

X O'Abby



Monday, March 4, 2024

Week 10 – Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 10 – Wild by Cheryl Strayed

https://www.cherylstrayed.com/wild_108676.htm

First published: March 20, 2012

Here's what the story is about: A memoir of Cheryl Strayed’s hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert in Southern California, through Oregon and to the Washington border.

First line/paragraph:
My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. There was the first, flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was the quitting my job as a waitress and finalizing my divorce and selling almost everything I owned and saying goodbye to my friends and visiting my mother’s grave one last time. There was the driving across the country from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, and, a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and a ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to the place where the PCT crossed a highway.

This story starts with an introduction which is basically backstory. The balance of chapter 1 is also backstory about the day she learned her mother was dying of lung cancer. But this author writes with voice. The details she gives, her thoughts at the time, everything on the page compels the reader to turn one more page. This book was riveting [I read the audio book] and I could not stop until it was over.

I also love the cover!

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Monday, February 26, 2024

Week 9 – The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 9 – The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich

https://evanovich.com/the-recovery-agent/

First published: March 22, 2022

Here's what the story is about: Gabriela Rose is a recovery agent, hired to find lost treasures, stolen heirlooms, or missing assets. She journeys to the jungles of Peru in pursuit of the Ring of Solomon and the lost treasure of Lima. Unfortunately, her ex-husband Rafer has the map, and he’s not about to let Gabriela find the treasure without him.

First line/paragraph:
Gabriela Rose was standing in a small clearing that led to a rope-and-board footbridge. The narrow bridge spanned a gorge that was a hundred feet deep and almost as wide. Rapids roared over enormous boulders at the bottom of the gorge, but Gabriela couldn’t see the river because it was raining buckets and visibility was limited. 

This story starts “in media res” by introducing the main character and setting. Assuming you read the back copy so you had some idea of what the story was about, you now know by this first paragraph that Gabriela Rose is on an adventure and she isn't afraid of much. At first it seems like third person POV, but there are some details about the bottom of the gorge that are described but then it says Gabriela couldn't see the river. I'm not sure the details would be known just by sound, so it might be omniscient POV. But I can definitely picture the setting, and even if the author took some liberties with third person POV, it isn't a distraction, at least not to me.

When I first started as a writer, I was told to never use the “was ___ing” construction without it being a conscious decision. Just use the verb. Here we find it in the first sentence, which my brain auto-corrected to “stood”. But Janet Evanovich can pretty much write anything she wants and people will buy it anyway.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, February 22, 2024

From the Archives - Dear O'Abby: Can I writer reviews if I'm an aspiring author?

 Dear O’Abby, 


I’ve been getting conflicting advice about whether or not to review books as an aspiring author. Some people tell me I shouldn’t do it because if I give a bad review to a book represented by a publisher or agent I might wish to query, they may have already put a black mark by my name. Others say I should write reviews because it helps to identify things wrong with stories and writing that I can then apply to my own work. 

Do you have an opinion on this? 

Best, 

Confused 



Dear Confused, 

I’ve heard that story about why writers shouldn’t write reviews too, but I’ve never taken it too seriously. Agents and publishers should be mature enough to understand that not every book is going to appeal to every reader and that well-written reviews can be valuable to the author even if they aren’t 100% positive. 

As a writer, it’s important to read critically and reviewing books is one way to force yourself to do so. If you like a book, reviewing it will help you figure out why you enjoyed it. Was it the story? The characters? The way the words are strung together? 

And if you didn’t like the book, what was it you didn’t like? Did you feel the characters acted inconsistently? Was the writing pedestrian? Did the plot fall flat? 

By identifying what you do and don’t like about the books you read, you will find yourself growing more critical of your own writing and you may save yourself a lot of grief by fixing issues long before you send the manuscript off to agents or publishers. 

If being blacklisted by agents or publishers for writing negative reviews is a real concern, there are a number of ways you can get around it. 

Firstly, only publish reviews of things you like. Write the negative ones because they’re often more helpful to you as a writer than the positive ones, but don’t publish them. I did this for a while, calling the review section on my blog ‘books I’ve loved’ and only reviewing things I really liked. I ended up stopping this though, because there just weren’t enough books I loved to write a positive review every week. 

Another way to get around it is to review under a pseudonym or write under a pen name so your reviews aren’t linked to your author name. 

The key thing to remember when writing reviews is to be constructive. Don’t just pile on with a negative rant. Nothing is 100% bad, so even a negative review can mention a few positives to balance out the negativity. Personally, I like to start with something I liked and finish with another thing I liked with all the critique in the middle. Always read what you have written before you publish and think about how it would make you feel if this review was for your own book. 

I would also suggest you don’t tag the author when you publish the review. Not all writers like to read their reviews and if they accidentally click onto a link in a tweet or something and find themselves confronted with a negative review, it could be very upsetting for them. 

So that’s my opinion on whether writers should write reviews. I know other people have different opinions, but if you want to write reviews and if you find the process helps your own writing, why not? 

If you want more information about this topic, Operation Awesome's J Lenni  Dorner has written a very helpful book, Writing Book Reviews As An Author which gives much more in-depth guidance about how to effectively review books as an author. Some of the advice in there may contradict my own, but it's still a valuable resource, even if you are not a writer and want to write reviews.

Happy reviewing!

X O’Abby

Monday, February 19, 2024

Week 8 – The Martian by Andy Weir

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 8 – The Martian by Andy Weir

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martian_(Weir_novel)

First published: October 28, 2014

Here's what the story is about: Mark Watney is a botanist accompanying the crew of NASA’s Ares 3 to Mars for a one-month scientific mission. On Sol 6 (Martian day 6), a severe wind storm blows Watney out of sight and threatens to blow over the landing craft, which would strand the crew on Mars. The remaining crew leave Watney behind, believing him dead, before they can be stranded. But Watney survived and must learn how to stay alive while NASA figures out how to get him back to Earth. 

First line/paragraph:
I'm pretty much fucked.
That's my considered opinion.
Fucked.
Six days into what should be the greatest month of my life, and it's turned into a nightmare.

This story starts in first person POV and we already know a lot about this character. He has colorful language [2 f-bombs in the first 10 words!], but he's also educated [the phrase “considered opinion”], which makes him interesting. This was supposed to be the pinnacle of his life, but now he's in big trouble. The next few lines/paragraphs give an introduction of who he is, where he is, and why he's there. The story definitely starts “in media res”, then slips a little into backstory including the inciting incident which has already happened by the time the story starts. I definitely think this works at a first line/paragraph. I'm willing to follow this person for almost 400 pages and find out if/how he gets out of his predicament. Of course, so were millions of other readers since this book was also made into a movie.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!


Thursday, February 15, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Why is book marketing so hard?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm an author with a few books out, but none of them seem to sell much.  I've experimented with various ways of marketing my books, but none of them have been very successful and I've ended up spending more on marketing than I've got back in sales.  Which is not sustainable.

Why is this so hard?

Kind regards,

Sales-less

Dear Sales-less,

Book marketing is hard.  People don't want or expect to pay a whole lot for a book (especially an ebook), so the cost of marketing a book often can't be built into the price.  Usually you'd expect around 10% of the cost of a product to be put aside for marketing; with a .99c ebook, that 10% isn't worth much.

We're also working in a very crowded market.  Millions of new books are published every year, and these new books have to compete with all the billions of books that already exist in the world too.  It takes a lot to be heard in all that noise.

Then there's the fact that most people only read 4-10 books a year.  If you read 100+ books a year, you're more likely to be willing to take risk on something new and different and unknown.  If you only read five, you're likely to be more selective and to ensure the book you invest time and money into is something you'll enjoy.  These readers tend to return to authors they know and love, read series, and make decisions on what to read based on reviews, public opinion and from having seen the book advertised to them several times across different platforms.

All of this makes selling a book as a new author very difficult. In my opinion, the most important thing to do is to generate positive reviews. Without a significant number of four and five star reviews on Amazon, your book is basically invisible to the majority of readers.  And yes, I agree that sucks, but unfortunately, that's the reality we live in.  Any marketing you do needs to drive people who read your book to leave reviews so your book becomes more visible.

You also need to build fans, the people who will eagerly anticipate your next book, and purchase it without much thought just because they have enjoyed your previous books.  It's very hard to earn much with a single book in your catalogue.  There's a reason so many authors write series...

So, yeah...  That's why book marketing is so hard.

X O'Abby

Monday, February 12, 2024

Week 7 – The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 7 – The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1257/1257-h/1257-h.htm

First published: March through July 1844 as a serial novel in a Parisian newspaper

Here's what the story is about: A historical novel set in France in 1625-1628. It recounts the adventures of d'Artagnan (a character based on Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan) when he travels to Paris, hoping to join the Musketeers. He is befriended by Athos, Porthos, and Aramis [the three musketeers] and joins them in various adventures.

First line/paragraph:
On the first Monday of the month of April, 1625, the market town of Meung, in which the author of Romance of the Rose was born, appeared to be in as perfect a state of revolution as if the Huguenots had just made a second La Rochelle of it. Many citizens, seeing the women flying toward the High Street, leaving their children crying at the open doors, hastened to don the cuirass, and supporting their somewhat uncertain courage with a musket or a partisan, directed their steps toward the hostelry of the Jolly Miller, before which was gathered, increasing every minute, a compact group, vociferous and full of curiosity.

This story starts with introduction of the setting [time and place], and describes the place as “in a perfect state of revolution”, which also begins the plot. There are several historical details which presumably would have been known by the readers. We also have the POV [omniscient]. Based on this information, we can form a preliminary guess of what will happen in the story, but we don't know any of the characters or what they may be like. The story starts more “in media res” than many stories of the time.

The second paragraph gives more historical information about the referenced revolution. It's not until the third paragraph that we are introduced to the main character, D’Artagnan, who is compared to Don Quixote.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!


Thursday, February 8, 2024

Dear O'Abby: How long should I wait?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm querying at the moment and I'm wondering how long I should wait before trying to rewrite my query.  I have done a ton of work on it with a professional editor, with other writers and submitted it for substantial feedback from agents in contests etc prior to starting querying.  I feel like it's really good now and truly captures the essence of my book.

But I have had six rejections already, from the first 12 queries I sent out, so now I'm wondering if the query really is as good as I think it is.  How many rejections should I get before I need to start thinking about re-writing my query?

Regards,

Rejected

Dear Rejected,

It sounds like you are very early on in the querying journey, so don't get discouraged.  I know it's hard to put your hard work out there and to get faced with nothing but rejection, but unfortunately, it's part of the business.  With only 12 queries out, I don't think you need to worry about changing the query yet. Especially since not all of these first batch have responded yet. 

It sounds like you've done a lot of work on the query, so maybe it's not the query that's not working.  Writers often get so wrapped up in creating the perfect query that they forget they need a near-perfect book to go with it.  Make sure your sample pages are as shiny as the query - and not just the first 5-10 pages.  Some agents ask for more than that and if your writing peters out after the first 10 pages, that could be the problem.

But basically, publishing is a tough industry and even if you have the most perfect query and a fantastic book, you will get rejections.  Agents and publishers often have something very specific they are looking for and if your book doesn't fall into that niche, they're going to pass. Taking on new authors is a lot of work, and unless they're confident your book is going to sell, they're going to pass.

So don't take it to heart.  Keep sending out those queries.

X O'Abby

 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Suzanna's Writing and Reading Goals for 2024: January Update

 

It's time to reflect on the first month of 2024! How did I do?

Here are my writing goals for 2024:

  1. Write 50,000 words in 30 days as part of a NaNo project (Camp in April, Camp in July, or NaNo in November).
  2. Write at least one children's book.
  3. Write at least one new short story.
  4. Edit at least one short story from my undergrad days.
  5. Write at least twelve poems.
  6. Put together a poetry collection.
  7. Work on the draft of the graphic novel.
  8. Take a course on publishing.
    1. The 6 week course starts in February, and it will be exciting to think about writing and publishing in a new way. I am looking forward to learning so much.


Of course as a writer, I also need to read. I read 25 books in January. Only 225 to hit my goal, which is about 4.5 books a week.
  1. Read 12 literary magazines. (0/12)
    1. (selected one but haven't finished)
  2. Read 12 novels. (15/12)
    1. Inner Demons by Sarra Cannon
    2. Popcorn and Poltergeists by Nancy Warren
    3. Bitter Demons by Sarra Cannon
    4. Shadow Demons by Sarra Cannon
    5. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
    6. Golden Son by Pierce Brown
    7. Garters and Gargoyles by Nancy Warren
    8. Morning Star by Pierce Brown
    9. Diamonds and Daggers by Nancy Warren
    10. Ribbing and Runes by Nancy Warren
    11. Herringbones and Hexes by Nancy Warren
    12. Mosaics and Magic by Nancy Warren
    13. Tangles and Treason by Nancy Warren
    14. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    15. Cat's Paws and Curses by Nancy Warren
  3. Read 12 short story collections. (0/12)
    1. (selected one but haven't finished)
  4. Read 12 poetry collections. (0/12)
    1. (selected one but haven't finished)
  5. Read 12 graphic novels. (2/12)
    1. Heartstopper: Volume Two by Alice Oseman
    2. Heartstopper: Volume Three by Alice Oseman
  6. Read 12 children's books. (1/12)
    1. The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
  7. Read lots of books (nonfiction, fiber, etc). (7/12)
    1. Weaving Big on a Little Loom by Fiona Daly
    2. A Handbook of Weaves by Gustaf Hermann Oelsner
    3. Pattern Weaving by Rabbit Goody
    4. Polysecure by Jessica Fern
    5. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
    6. The Gift by Edith Eger
    7. The Polysecure Workbook by Jessica Fern
  8. Participate in every Kindle Reading Challenge this year and get at least 90% of the badges.
    1. I am on target with 8 achievements so far.  
What are some of your writing and reading goals for 2024? How did January go for you?

Monday, February 5, 2024

Week 6 – And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 6 – And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

https://www.agathachristie.com/stories/and-then-there-were-none

First published: November 6, 1939

Here's what the story is about: Eight people are invited to a small, isolated island off the coast of England. A framed copy of the rhyme Ten Little Indians hangs in every guest's room, and ten figurines sit on the dining table. After dinner, a recording accuses each visitor, along with the butler and the housekeeper, of having committed murder. Then, following the lines of the rhyme, the guests are killed one by one until none remain.

First line/paragraph: In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench, puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in the Times.

This story starts with introduction of one character, a retired judge. He's on a train smoking and reading the political section of the newspaper. We also have the POV [third person or omniscient]. Based on this information, we can form a preliminary opinion of who this character is, and we probably wonder where he's traveling to. The story starts “in media res”, unlike many stories of the time.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!


Thursday, February 1, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Am I being ghosted?

 Dear O'Abby,

My agent has had my book out on submission and it's been a while now.  We got a couple of pretty swift rejections, which kind of sucked, but at least I knew where I stood with those editors.  A couple of others have told my agent that they're behind on their reading and they will be getting to it soon.  So at least I know that I haven't been forgotten.

The last couple of editors have been eerily silent.  My agent has followed up with them a couple of times, but has received no response.  Do editors sometimes just not respond?  Ever?  Am I freaking out for no good reason here?

Sincerely,

Ghosted

Dear Ghosted,

Unfortunately, this does occasionally happen.  It may not be malicious or intentional, but sometimes editors get so behind on their reading, it becomes embarrassing for them to admit.  Or some major life event may have derailed things and they're struggling to get back on track.

Whatever the reason, if this lack of response becomes a regular thing, agents will notice and stop sending stuff to that editor.  This is the kind of inside knowledge an agent has that you don't have if you're subbing to publishers on your own.  Obviously, if your agent subbed to these editors, she thinks your book is a good fit with them and she has a good relationship with them.  Have you raised your concerns about the length of time it is taking with her?

Maybe she knows these editors are often slow to respond, but she's willing to wait because she believes they are the best fit for your book.  Or maybe they have always been responsive in the past, and this behaviour is out of character.  Whatever the situation, be certain your agent is taking note and, while I know it doesn't help you, if they are serial non-responders, agents will stop subbing to them.

I hope this helps.

X O'Abby

Monday, January 29, 2024

Week 5 – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 5 – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

You can read it here

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm

https://www.read.gov/books/christmas-carol.html

First published: December 19, 1843

Here's what the story is about: Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly and selfish miser, is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. After their visits, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man.

First line/paragraph:
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

This story starts with introduction of two characters, Marley and Scrooge. Marley is dead, so we expect not to see him in the story [Hah!]. Scrooge would then appear to be the main character. We also have the POV [third person or omniscient]. The fact that Marley is dead appears to be very important to the story. It is mentioned multiple times, with multiple witnesses attesting to his demise, along with terms like “no doubt whatever” and “dead as a door-nail”. At this point however, that's all we know about the plot.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Should I include my prologue?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm querying a fantasy novel that begins with a prologue which sets up the world and its mythology for readers before the main characters are introduced.  I'm getting conflicting feedback from other writer friends about whether to include this in the first 5/10/20/50 pages agents request with a query.  Some people tell me I should send the pages where the story starts, while others say I should send the first pages of the actual book - which are the prologue.

Do you have any insight into this?  I feel like the story won't make a lot of sense without the prologue, but at the same time, I have focused my query on the characters and their journeys and none of these characters appear in the prologue.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated!

Kind regards,

Unsure

Dear Unsure,

This is one of those questions that comes up all the time. 

In my opinion if an agent or editor asks for the first 5/10/20 etc pages, that's what you send them.  If they are intrigued and you've sent only the pages post-prologue, they will be confused when they receive your full manuscript and it's different to the pages you sent previously.

That said, make sure your prologue is really necessary.  Too many books start with a prologue that really has nothing to do with the story being told, or introduce characters that never appear again in the book.  Often a prologue provides an action-packed beginning to the story to grab attention, or is used as a way to info-dump a bunch of stuff the writer wants the reader to know before they start reading the story itself.

If your prologue is genuinely necessary, then send those pages.  If  it's only there to grab attention or give background that could just as easily be seeded through the main part of the story, then I'd rethink whether you really need that prologue.

Hope that helps!

X O'Abby